how to photograph insects

How do you photograph insects?

Xpozer is all about animals this month. Of course this calls for an animal themed article. Does your mind also instantly imagine furry bunnies and cute puppies? Our pets of course provide us with many, many lovely picture opportunities. But have you ever delved into the world of insects? They might not always be as cute, they are actually very interesting! So, how do you photograph insects? Macro lenses are ideal for photographing tiny creepy crawlies!

Pictures of insects always give me the creeps, but at the same time they fascinate. Macro photography makes it possible to see details you might have never seen otherwise. What is the best way to photograph insects? And would you decorate you wall with a giant bug?

Macro lens

The answer to the question ‘How do you photograph insects?’ is actually quite simple. By using a macro lens! Macro lenses make it possible to get real close to your subject. Your depth of field is very small, so it takes some practice to get everything right. Use a tripod and make sure you know what your lense’s working distance is. The working distance is the ideal distance between the subject and the front of the lens. Read up on this before purchasing your lens, as macro lenses can be really pricey.

Check out macro zoom lenses, as they come in really handy when photographing insects. It helps prevent scaring away insects by coming too close. Image stabilization is also a feature that will make you very happy. It helps prevent unwanted motion blur. The tiniest movement can be disastrous for your macro photo.

Photographing insects without a macro lens?

As previously stated, macro lenses are expensive. Luckily, there are also cheaper alternatives. There are adapter rings that make your ‘normal’ lens suitable for macro photography and there are even rings that make it possible to use your ‘normal’ lens reversed to simulate a macro lens. Do your research before you buy. There are multiple budget friendly options out there.

Light, camera, insect, action!

When you have chosen a lens, you can start shooting macro pictures. The cool thing about macro photography is that you can do it anywhere! You do need a fair amount of light, so it’s best to shoot during the day, preferably on your balcony or in the garden, to get as much light as you can. Somewhere between your plants, there’s a beautiful little insect waiting to be photographed. Or maybe even an ugly one. Because, to be honest, there’s a lot of ugly insects as well! Have you ever seen a close up of a ladybug? Yeah, they’re actually not that cute.

macro photo of a ladybug

How does it work?

We have devised a step-by-step plan and give you some advice.

Step 1: Find your subject

The best photography subjects are the ones that surprise you. Just like the little ladymonster in the picture above. Another good example is the spider (okay, okay, it’s not technically an insect, but that doesn’t make it a less interesting subject).

macro photo of a spider

Make sure not to startle your subject. Many animals will flee when you get too close. Don’t make any unexpected movements and move calmly to not touch any nearby leaves or branches. Your subject should be easily accessible for you. You might have to bend and squat to get the best shots.

Step 2: Choose the right settings

With macro photography it’s very important to focus exactly right, as you only have a small depth of field. Mess it up only a fraction and the picture fails. Unless you’re looking to focus on a certain detail (for example a wing of a fly), always focus on the eyes. It gives the viewer an eerie, unsettled feeling when the eyes are out of focus.

The how-do-I-do-that-checklist:

Choose a small aperture (high f-number).
Choose a short shutter speed (1/100 or smaller).
You’ll have to add some light, because a small aperture and short shutter speed results in darker pictures.
Up your ISO to catch enough light.
Manual focus will be needed for this precise job.

photo of changing settings on a camera

Step 3: Choose the best picture (what makes a macro photo successful?)

How do you photograph insects in an interesting way? Here are the most important factors:

  1. Focus correctly
    It’s such a shame when your focus is just behind that eye or in front of that beautiful wing. Always check all your settings and focus manually. Use a tripod to avoid disappointments.
  2. A pretty background
    The background of the subject plays a big part in macro photography. Position your camera in a way that creates the best background. A green leaf, or a patch of shadow that turns all black in your macro photo, compliment your subject.
  3. An interesting composition
    This is an important one for all types of photography. Create an interesting image by choosing an interesting composition. If necessary, shoot a wider view, so you can crop later.
insect on white and yellow flower

Practice makes perfect!

So, how do you photograph insects? Make sure to focus manually and in exactly the right spot. Keep your distance to the subject in order to keep the insect from fleeing. Choose a background that won’t distract the viewer from the subject. All this will get you well on your way to beautiful shots!

Use this step-by-step guide to explore your garden, balcony or neighborhood looking for insects to photograph. Maybe (probably) you have some inside your home. Make sure to have enough light, and don’t make any sudden movements. Choose the correct settings on your camera, try out a few different combinations of settings. You will be amazed by the whole new world opening up to you when examining insects and other little critters up close!

Upload your favorite insect (or other animal) pic and enter the photo contest!